White Criminals and Killer Ex-Cops Preferred at New York City's Fire Department

Historically, it has been very difficult for Blacks to find jobs in the firehouses of many major cities. But in New York, a good ole boy network apparently helps white ex-offenders become first responders, “thus perpetuating the extreme racial imbalance.” The FDNY even welcomed into its ranks two of the cops that mowed down Amadou Diallo, in 1999.

“Nothing but the most brazen kind of good ole boy networking can explain why the fire departments of New York and so many big cities resemble job banks for white men – including those with records.”

Studies have shown that white job applicants who have done time in prison are more likely to get a call-back for an interview than Black men with no criminal record. Apparently, when it comes to getting a job as a New York City firefighter white ex-offenders are also first in line to be hired – or even have a line all to themselves if they have relatives and friends in the department.

Business as usual at the New York Fire Department – which remains overwhelmingly white in a two-thirds non-white metropolis – means forgiving and forgetting the past crimes of applicants who have connections to the already existing work force, thus perpetuating the extreme racial imbalance. The sleezy workings of what is effectively a racial preference system were revealed at hearings in a Brooklyn federal court where Black firefighters of the Vulcan Society are asking that a special monitor be appointed to change the way new hires are recruited.

 In a sworn deposition, a former assistant commissioner for personnel described how ranking firemen requested that candidates’ past problems with the law be overlooked. She called it an attitude of, “Let the boys be boys.” Of course, most of the “boys” were white, like the officers that vouched for them.

Given the blue collar skill sets required of firefighters, nothing but the most brazen kind of good ole boy networking can explain why the fire departments of New York and so many big cities resemble job banks for white men – including those with records. The former commissioner recalled hearing ranking officers lobby for the relatives and friends of relatives and friends with records. It would go something like: “He beat his wife but his wife took him back so he shouldn’t be considered a wife beater. He still could be a good firefighter.”

Which might be true. And there are doubtless many Black job applicants with troubled pasts who would also make good firemen, if given a second chance. However, because of generations of racial discrimination, it’s unlikely that the Black ex-offender will have connections to the good ole boy firemen’s network.

“Whites use backroom strategies to keep the department disproportionately Euro-American.”

White firefighters, like whites in racially exclusive positions everywhere, know perfectly well how the system works for the benefit of people like themselves. Still, they cry reverse discrimination whenever the system is challenged – for example, in Brooklyn, where Blacks last year convinced the federal court to throw out discriminatory employment tests. The same court is now learning how whites use backroom strategies to keep the department so disproportionately Euro-American.

Two of the former cops that killed Amadou Diallo in a hail of bullets, in 1999, were hired by the fire department after beating murder charges. A lawyer for Black firefighters asked a guy named Dean Tow, who is director of candidate investigations for the department, if he had “any concern that, perhaps, in shooting an innocent civilian [the cops’] judgment, although not criminal, may have been faulty?”

“No,” said Mr. Tow, who makes decisions every day about who is fit to be a New York City firefighter. And that says volumes about what goes on in the city’s firehouses, bastions of racial exclusion and hypocrisy.